Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-nr4z6 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-19T18:17:42.123Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Augustine, the origin of evil, and the mystery of free will

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 November 2013

Department of Theology and Religion, University of Durham, Abbey House, Palace Green, Durham, DH1 3RS, UK e-mail:


The question of why humanity first chose to sin is an extension to the problem of evil to which the free-will defence does not easily apply. In De libero arbitrio and elsewhere Augustine argues that as an instance of evil, the fall is necessarily inexplicable. In this article, I identify the problems with this response and attempt to construct an alternative based on Peter van Inwagen's free will ‘mysterianism’. I will argue that the origin of evil is inexplicable not because it is an instance of evil, but because it is an instance of free will.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Albritton, Rogers (2003) ‘Freedom of will and freedom of action’, in Watson, G. (ed.) Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 408423.Google Scholar
Augustine (1955) De Libero Arbitrio, Pontifex, D. M. (ed. & tr.), Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation 22 (New York: Newman).Google Scholar
Augustine (2003) Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans, Bettenson, H. (tr.) (London: Penguin).Google Scholar
Ayer, A. J. (1954) ‘Freedom and necessity’, in Ayer, A. J. (ed.) Philosophical Essays (London: Macmillan), 271284.Google Scholar
Brown, Robert F. (1978) ‘The first evil will must be incomprehensible’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 46, 315329.Google Scholar
Chappell, T. D. J. (1994) ‘Explaining the inexplicable: Augustine on the fall’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 62, 869884.Google Scholar
Clarke, R. (2008) ‘Incompatibilism’, in Zalta, E. N. (ed.) The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, (12 January 2011).Google Scholar
Dennett, Daniel (1984) Elbow Room (Oxford: Clarendon Press).Google Scholar
Dowe, Phil (2001) ‘A counterfactual theory of prevention and “causation” by omission’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 79, 216226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Duff, R. A. (1998) ‘Responsibility’, in Craig, E. (ed.) Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, (7 February 2013).Google Scholar
Evans, G. R. (1982) Augustine on Evil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
Evans, G. R. (1999) ‘Evil’, in Fitzgerald, A. D. (ed.) Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Cambridge MA: Eerdmans), 340344.Google Scholar
Frankfurt, Harry G. (1978) ‘The problem of action’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 15, 157162.Google Scholar
Griffith, Meghan E. (2005) ‘Does free will remain a mystery? A response to van Inwagen’, Philosophical Studies, 124, 261269.Google Scholar
Hansson, S. O. (2003) ‘Ethical criteria of risk acceptance’, Erkenntnis, 59, 291309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hume, David (2000) A Treatise of Human Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
Mackie, J. L. (1990) ‘Evil and omnipotence’, in Adams, M. M. & Adams, R. M. (eds) The Problem of Evil (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 2537.Google Scholar
Mann, William E. (2001) ‘Augustine on evil and original sin’, in Kretzmann, N. & Stump, E. (eds) The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 4048.Google Scholar
Matthews, G. B. (2004) ‘Augustine’, in Craig, E. (ed.) Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, (6 January 2011).Google Scholar
Murray, M. (2005) ‘Leibniz on the problem of evil’, in Zalta, E. N. (ed.) The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, (10 January 2011).Google Scholar
Pereboom, Derk (2004) ‘The problem of evil’, in Mann, W. E. (ed.) The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion (Oxford: Blackwell), 148170.Google Scholar
Russell, Paul (1988) ‘Causation, compulsion and compatibilism’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 25, 313321.Google Scholar
Tilley, Terrence W. (2000) The Evils of Theodicy (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers).Google Scholar
van Inwagen, Peter (1983) An Essay on Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
van Inwagen, Peter (2002) ‘Free will remains a mystery’, in Kane, R. (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 158177.Google Scholar